My discipline is ‘classical reception’, which is a relatively new area of study. The Open University is a world leader in this area – largely as a result of the work of my supervisor, Professor Lorna Hardwick.
I’m studying the reception of the Roman poet Catullus in the Romantic era, between 1780 and 1830. I’m looking at how people (like Byron and Keats, for example) creatively engaged with his work, how they used it, and how perceptions of Catullus changed throughout this period. Classical culture had be adapted in Britain as a tool for social division, but around the time of the French revolution, as I am finding, a pocket of resistance grew against this from a dissenting group of artists and poets, a kind of democratisation of elite culture. There are parallels that may be drawn between this and our own relationship with the classical world today.
I came here on a Michael Comber Studentship, a studentship set up by the OU in affiliation with St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford. Both the OU and Oxford are great institutions. They’re also completely different, and so it’s been fascinating getting to know them both over the last few years.
I find the facilities brilliant. I’ve been able to work and study in Oxford as well as benefit from the training and flexibility provided by the OU. The OU is my awarding body, and for a PhD student they provide a lot of research skills training in the first and second years. Compared to what I’ve seen of other universities, the OU’s training is very thorough and useful, especially in terms of support. Perhaps this is something to do with their tradition of distance learning. They are very aware of the potential isolation of being a PhD student and so are really helpful on that front.
I’ve just been accepted on a two-year training course in public engagement called ‘Communicating Ancient Greece and Rome’ run by the APGRD (Archive of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama) and CRSN (Classical Studies Reception Network), which provides training in all sorts of areas from writing popular non-fiction through to journalism and broadcasting. I am working on a web-based project that explores contemporary digital and cross-media poetry (londonpoetrysystems.com) and another (forthcoming) that provides multi-media supported access to the ‘best of’ classical poetry.
My ambition for the future, aside from writing and translation, is to help develop public access to classical culture. It’s really important that this stuff is available to everyone. This is something that I’m sure I’ve gained from the OU’s ethos. I’m very proud to be a member of The Open University.
Henry Stead, UK. PhD: A Cockney Catullus